Using Smart Optical Sensors to Drive Medical Device Portability

Smaller, smarter, and more reliable. The same technology innovations which allow intelligent handheld devices in the consumer market are also allowing more portable medical equipment – both for in-home use and in hospitals.

Healthcare devices today must be highly efficient and integrated, as they are at times utilized by minimally trained or untrained people under less than perfect conditions.

Sensors and connectivity are now primary components for meeting these requirements, allowing healthcare anywhere via the Internet of Things (IoT). Reliability is a key consideration, as these are the treatment and diagnostic tools serving a global population with increasing healthcare expectations and needs.

Essentially, in healthcare, connected devices are creating networks of highly instrumented devices, the effect of which truly remains to be seen. However, we do recognize that much of their utility depends on implementing one or more sensors to detect alterations in diverse, real world environments and convert them into electrical signals which can be measured and acted upon.

Healthcare situations rely on accurate readings which are facilitated by sensors that are robust, highly integrated, small, draw little power and are stable over the long term. This unique combination of features and performance is crucial in advancing connected health devices, facilitating both adaptability and portability, as sensing capabilities which are required of devices in the field are likely to evolve over time.

Optical Sensors Provide Performance and Versatility

One of the most versatile tools in these circumstances is the optical sensor as it can observe objects (like products on a manufacturing line), at reflections off things (such as surfaces that have been processed in some way), or through media (such as liquids flowing through tubes).

Yet, gathering the type of repeatable, accurate measurements which make analysis meaningful can be challenging. For example, as anyone who has fitted a screen protector to their phone can confirm, a growing amount of materials with low reflectance are now available. A number of these are being dispatched into service in medical devices, like the windows through which sensors detect contamination or bubbles in flowing liquids.

Understanding the resultant signals requires a sensor with programmable sensitivity levels and output to handle differing levels of reflectance and low-contrast scenarios.

Often, sensor signals can be quite delicate, meaning they are often small voltages or currents measured in electrically noisy conditions from sensing devices which alter performance with environmental factors like temperature or ambient light, and across their operational lifetime. As light output in LEDs gradually degrade over time, LED performance inside the sensor is subject to aging.

Optical Sensors Address Medical Application Demands

In terms of design requirements, portable medical equipment can be the most challenging in the medical device arena. The sensor must provide low power consumption to increase battery life and decrease overall system power. Additionally, it must also integrate as much functionality in as small a footprint as possible.

An example of a device like this is TT Electronics’ Photologic V OPB9000 reflective optical sensor, which has been designed specifically for medical applications. This optical sensor incorporates a fully integrated analog front end, a digital interface, and on chip processing, in a surface mount package measuring just 4.0 mm by 2.2 mm by 1.5 mm – space savings of up to 80 % in circuit complexity.

Many industry challenges can be solved by better integration – turning a standalone sensor into a low-power sensing module which has programmable sensitivity and thresholds and includes all its supporting circuitry. Inherent flexibility permits these types of devices to aid many markets in a more cost-effective fashion than their discrete alternatives.

Utilized in lab, hospital, and portable equipment, this variety of optimized sensor can detect media and cartridge presence, in addition to contamination and fluid levels. It can be employed where other optical sensors cannot, with market-leading ambient light immunity of 25 klux.

It also integrates a large scope of features which cannot be found in other devices, like self-calibration and Automatic Gain Control, programmable contrast sensitivity, temperature compensation circuitry, and an industry standard communication interface.

With a response time of only 6 μs, it is extremely quick – without the use of outputs and microcontrollers, which leads to significant cost savings. These sensors can be programmed to the specific application even though they are mass produced, permitting further cost savings and allowing first to market customization capabilities.

Connected Medicine Reveals the Need for Adaptability

Designing medical equipment which promotes next-level care requires flexibility that is permitted readily by smarter sensing technology. Dynamically adaptable optical sensing can be utilized in  portable equipment, hospital, and lab, in order to detect cartridge and media presence, in addition to contamination and fluid level detection.

Powered by the proliferation of connected devices, in addition to the IoT and the concept of global connectivity, every medical device component which is utilized must provide a level of reliability, quality, and capability which overcomes the demands of almost any other sector.

For example, a common challenge to developers of medical equipment which is made more complicated by close patient contact requirements is the need to maintain a sterile environment. In a home care setting, sensors have to decrease patient risk by supporting self-diagnosis, so in the case of a home-based blood dialysis machine, it must correctly and consistently detect the presence of cartridges and waste products such as blood and other fluids.

Optical devices can measure and sense a range of conditions without physical contact, so are ideal for addressing this risk. The sensor uses minimal power and is small, highly integrated, and able to withstand a tough environment – all key characteristics which enhance equipment portability.

Portable and small with robust performance, adaptable sensors are making it possible to deliver smart, cost-effective solutions quickly, which permit data-driven care.

TT Electronics

TT Electronics' Photologic V OPB9000 reflective optical sensor is designed for diverse applications, and includes a fully integrated analog front end, on-chip processing, and a digital interface in a surface-mount package measuring just 4.0 × 2.2 × 1.5 mm.

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by TT Electronics plc.

For more information on this source, please visit TT Electronics plc.

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